• Cathedral of Saint Muredach, Ballina, Co Mayo, Diocese of Killala
The poet, John Donne, in his poem No man is an Island paid a tribute to human concern and community involvement. Part of it reads:
“No man is an island, entire of itself. Each is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main… each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”
Today the bells of this Cathedral toll for Seán. They toll in tribute to his gentle nature, his caring personality and his long years of public service in our country. They toll in joy for him and for his reunion in Heaven with those he loved; his parents, Phelim and Claire, his brother Thomas, his parents in law John and Kathleen Brogan, his many friends from the world of politics and sport, and the very many ordinary people from this constituency whose interests he served and confidence he gained during his nineteen years as a member of Dáil Éireann.
But today the bells of this Cathedral toll in sadness for us. Today, all of us are, as John Donne wrote, diminished by his death; for we have lost a loving family member, a caring relative, an outstanding public representative, a respected sportsman and a committed Christian.
We gather to commend Seán to the mercy of God, to thank God for the gift of life to him and the gift of his life to us, to his family, to our country and in particular to Mayo and this town of Ballina. I think the reading from the Book of Wisdom would express his attitude to this moment; ‘there is a time for everything’. Today is the time, unfortunately for the fallen leaf, a time to weep, a time to mourn but a time also to remember and to harvest all the good works of a life honestly lived. Therefore, while we gather in sadness we also gather to celebrate a life well lived.
I have taken as the Gospel reading for our Mass, the Beatitudes. I feel that they best sum up Seán’s life. When Christ sat on the mountainside and shared with his disciples his vision for Christian living he could have had him in mind. Recently, when Pope Francis offered a new list of beatitudes for modern Christians he too could have had Seán in mind also. More specifically, the late Cardinal Van Thuân of Viet Nam, former President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the Vatican wrote a version of the Beatitudes for politicians. Let me quote part of what he said;
“Blessed be the politician who has a high knowledge and a deep consciousness of his role. Blessed be the politician who personally exemplifies credibility. Blessed be the politician who works for the common good and not his own sake or interest. Blessed be the politician who remains coherent: true to himself, to his faith and to his electoral promises. Blessed be the politician who is able to listen. Who listens to the people before, during and after the elections; who listens to his conscience; and who listens to God in prayer.”
Listening to God in prayer was at the heart of Seán’s life. Regular Mass-goers to this Cathedral for the 11.00am Mass on a Sunday could predict exactly where Seán and Doris would sit every Sunday. And in recent months, even the celebrant, if he glanced down the centre aisle on his left hand side, would know where to look if he wanted the reassurance that both of them were well enough to attend. Seán never wore his faith on his sleeve. But in his heart he was a deeply Christian man and a man to whom faith was a very important part of everyday life. He was a member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association all his life and in a real sense this symbolised his total commitment to his Christian faith.
For nineteen years he represented the people of this constituency. As the Cardinal noted, he was deeply conscious of his role as their representative in Dáil Éireann. He listened to their needs before, during and after the elections and translated them into action. He worked for the common good and at a personal level, exemplified the highest credibility, without a trace of self-interest. On the ground in Mayo, he won great respect for his efforts on behalf of all the ordinary people of this constituency, irrespective of party affiliation. He ticked all the boxes outlined by the Cardinal for the work of a Christian politician in the modern world.
Seán lived a very public life for much of his time. Even when his father Phelim represented this constituency, he was in the public eye as the heir apparent and after he retired from politics, with the increasing public profile of his son, Dara, he was never far from public attention. During his nineteen years in the Dáil he served our country with distinction as Minister of State for Labour, for Industry and Commerce and for Foreign Affairs. In this latter role he either accompanied President Hillery on foreign visits or represented the Government in his own right. In all of this he was supported by Doris. The distinction with which he served our country, especially abroad, was only made possible by the constant, unfailing support which he received from her. And his public life was only made possible by the security which she gave him in their private, family life.
Seamus Heaney, in one of his poems, recalls the death of his mother. He wrote:
“Then she was dead, the searching for a pulse beat was abandoned and we all knew one thing by being there. The space we stood around had been emptied into us to keep, it penetrated clearances that suddenly stood open. High cries were felled and a pure change happened.”
Today, at this Mass, we stand around the mortal remains of Seán and the space which he has vacated has now been emptied into us to keep. And how do we now keep his spirit alive in our hearts and in this community? I think his deepest wish would be that in some way we would try to catch something of his faith in God, which sustained him throughout his life and which has now, we believe, reunited him with his dead in the communion of the saints in heaven. I also think he would want us to be practical; practical in the way we live out our faith and practical in our grief, recognising the great gift of the long life which he had and the great support which he received during those years. In this sense, he would want us to celebrate his life as well as mourn his death.
Today, therefore, while we are filled with sadness we also find hope and consolation in our faith. In the months and years to come his spirit, which has been emptied into our keeping, will, with God’s help, continue to influence and transform our lives too; his love of family and friends, his integrity and commitment to public service and to sport and most of all his deep faith in God, in whom our faith now tells us that he is at rest.
Seán, may your gentle soul rest in peace. Amen.
• Bishop John Fleming is Bishop of Killala.
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